Sunday 23 September 2012

ARC Preparations

Since Caroline (nee Fatty), Jamie and Sophie left Palma I have been working through all the big items on the List that I want to attend to in Palma before we leave for the Canaries and it's been a very busy two weeks. This blog is about all the technical matters that I have been immersed in and therefore you may find me wallowing self-indulgently in subjects such as forestay tension, life rafts and oil pressure senders, without apology or brevity.

Over the summer I have been concerned that in stronger winds there has been insufficient tension in the luff of the headsails, demonstrated by wrinkles on the leading edge of the sail, and as a result the sails perform quite poorly upwind in anything over 15 knots and we can't point as high as we should. Luff tension is achieved by tightening the halliard which hoists the sail to the top of the mast, however ever since we had the forestay shortened over the winter to straighten the mast, I have not wanted to wind on the halliard too hard without knowing if there is sufficient room for adjustment on the newly shortened stay. I call the French sail makers from Incidence Sails, and Gwen goes up the mast while Antoine and I unfurl the sails. Sure enough he finds that even with very little halliard tension, the shackle attached to the sail is almost touching the mast and if I had wound the halliard on any harder it would have probably ground the donut (a plastic ball which protects the mast from the steel shackle) hard against the sheave and damaged the mast, or worse, damaged the sheave itself making the sail unusable - not something we want to find mid-Atlantic. The pictures that Gwen takes at the top of the mast illustrate the problem.

The good news is that the solution is simple. By taking 20 cms off the top of the sail it creates a larger gap between the head of the sail and the mast, allowing us to apply more halliard tension which in turn creates a tighter luff and the sail will perform much better. The picture below shows the top of the mast after the fix with lots of halliard tension and there is still plenty of room to take up any stretch in the halliard. These issues vividly demonstrate to me that if you have a suspicion that something isn't right, poke it, prod it and worry away at it until you get to the root of the problem and usually ones instincts are right.

Safety equipment on a boat is always a bore. Prices are outrageous, you hope to never use it in anger, and yet you absolutely have to have it, know how to use it, and it must be serviced regularly and certificated. Over the winter I serviced all the fire extinguishers, life jackets and Jon Buoy, and now it's the turn of the emergency life raft, so I go to Oscar Sierra in Palma to see it inflated in their workshop. It is extraordinary what they can pack into the container. Our eight-man raft is certified for offshore use and therefore it has all the provisions to enable the occupants to survive at sea. This includes a first aid kit, flares, a torch, signalling mirror, drinking water, bottle opener, sea sickness pills, a fishing kit and even an inflatable radar reflector. The life raft looks as good as new inflated in the huge warehouse and Oscar Sierra confirm that it is in excellent condition so they test the lights, replace a few of the consumable items, vacuum pack it in its canister and deliver it back to the boat with an important looking certificate and a large invoice.

Our raft is mounted on the guard rail on the starboard quarter and attached to Juno by a device made by Hammar which will automatically launch the raft if it is submerged. Alarming though this might sound, the idea is that if the yacht is holed and sinks rapidly before we can manually launch the raft, the Hammar cuts the attachment, launching the life raft which then inflates automatically. The painter is attached to a weak point on the Hammar which will break if the yacht sinks to ensure that it doesn't go down with the ship! Hammar is the market leader in these devices and as I buy a new one (because they have to be replaced every 18 months) I think how great it would be to own a company that only makes one product with 100% market share and built in obsolescence which ensures a strong recurring revenue stream.

The area of the boat where my knowledge is weakest is the hard core engineering, including the main engine and the generator, so both of these are going to be serviced in Palma by the professionals. Udo and Timo turn up and are immediately impressive. Udo, clearly in charge, reminds me of the Bond villain Largo, and has an air of self-assurance and Germanic precision combined with charm and an easy smile. After all our engine is a VW so it seems apt. After a quick tour of the engine room pointing out the key components to his assistant, he leaves Timo to do the dirty work. The service involves oil changes, filters, belts, anodes and impellors and in addition I ask him to change the engine coolant and the gearbox oil. When I arranged the service I asked Udo to allow extra time to show an idiot how to service the engine, and by the end of the day the idiot feels slightly less idiotic.

The Onan generator is a less sophisticated beast to service but over the summer the oil-pressure light has been blinking its warning at me and I need to get this resolved. By measuring the resistance across the terminals of the sender I diagnose that the problem is actually the sensor, so I have ordered a new sender which we fit and the problem is solved. Timo is methodical and genial and we spend a whole day in the bowels of the boat, and when he is busy I do the inventory.

Juno has a comprehensive stock of spares on board and I maintain a spread sheet which I update periodically as new parts are ordered and the stock is depleted. I separate all the spares in the boat by function so I have boxes labelled Plumbing, Engine, Generator, Rigging, Electrical, Tender, Blocks, and so on. It is a dull but illuminating exercise and always ends with an email to Dee at Oyster who duly orders the parts and reinforcements are promptly delivered. My objective is to be self-sufficient for all but the biggest calamities and the spares inventory extends to no less than 4 different models of fresh water pump, a starter motor, a sea water pump for the heat exchanger, a spare motor for the autopilot and even a coolant reservoir for the generator. Timo is impressed and I am ever so slightly smug.

On the subject of autopilots, ours is used constantly and whirrs away quietly, steering our course with great precision and without ever tiring, complaining or losing concentration. The autopilot consists of two rams which are attached to the steering quadrant which in turn moves the rudder. Whenever Juno starts to steer off course by even the smallest amount, an electronic compass detects the change and instructs the rams to push or pull the quadrant to make the necessary adjustment to the rudder angle and Juno is smoothly steered back on course. These rams, technically known as linear drives, each have a motor, a clutch and a gear and the manufacturers recommend that they should be serviced every two years. JuanJo, the local Raymarine agent comes on board with his glamorous wife who acts as his assistant. He tests the autopilot and delivers his verdict with an accompanying shrug of the shoulders: they are working as smoothly as any he has seen and he wishes me well with a hand shake, refusing payment. However Oyster aren't satisfied and JuanJo soon receives missives from Raymarine HQ in the UK telling him that the drives should be disassembled, cleaned and checked for wear. JuanJo duly removes the drives from the boat and returns two days later confirming that they are working as smoothly as any he has seen and he wishes me well with a hand shake and ruefully presents me with his invoice. Over the next few months the autopilot will have to work hard in the big Atlantic rollers so despite the cost I am glad to tick another important item off the List.

While in Palma I had the pleasure of meeting Mike and Laura Brasler who left South Africa 14 years ago on their Van de Stadt steel ketch with their ten year old daughter and they are still cruising and planning a circumnavigation. Their daughter is now married and a senior crew member on a super yacht so they will be crossing the Atlantic this winter to head back to the San Blas islands and then maybe the Pacific. I stayed on board their beautiful boat in Andtratx and ever since then I have plagued Mike with technical questions which he patiently answers. I hope that we will be able to keep in touch and maybe meet up again in the Caribbean.

With the List shortened and a week of board meetings ahead, I catch a flight back to the UK, travelling via Liverpool to see Jamie at university where he is happy but looking a little worse for wear as freshers week draws to an end and the prospect of lectures looms. Then I take the train West to Exeter to see Tom's galactic headquarters in Exeter Castle. His rooms are huge with high ceilings, large sash windows and an enormous oak refectory table which is the premises of Man & Moon, his fledgling web development business.

Confident that the boys are happy and thriving I am already looking forward to getting back to Juno with Caroline to begin our passage towards Gibralter and then onto Lanzarote and Gran Canaria.

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